I got to preach on Easter this year.
Easter sermons are somewhat treacherous, as like Christmas sermons, they can become a Greatest Hits of everything the preacher would like you to remember, on the chance they won’t see you again until the next big holiday. Or, you can go to the other extreme: to make the sermon dull and predictable so as not to offend the people who have stumbled, blinking, into your church, in hopes that they will stick around. (Nothing is so attractive to newcomers after all as bumper sticker theology, amirite?)
So while Easter may seem like an easy gig, it’s really not. Everyone pretty much knows the story, the expectations are high, the theological landmines abound. Do you argue for the physical resurrection? Do you skip over that bit? Do you go full NT Wright, and talk about the coming fulfillment of all things in the eschaton? SO MANY OPTIONS.
My job was made much easier this year by the fact that I have a parish who allows the liturgy and music to preach as thoroughly as the sermon. Even when that liturgy occasionally involves an exploding thurible during the late service. (Shoutout to the choir, who stomped out the flaming charcoal by rerouting their procession without missing a beat. That’s professionalism right there.)
Here’s what I ended up saying:
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
April 16, 2017
This story begins in darkness. A whole bunch of darkness. The preceding days have been dark and traumatic–Jesus has been put to death, the death of a convicted political criminal. He has been shamed, made to suffer, humiliated. His family and friends have been terrified and threatened. All their hopes for the future, their dreams of where Jesus would lead them, dashed.
And on this morning, in darkness, the women head to the tomb. It’s their job–in that time, it was an important sign of respect to anoint the body of a loved one. It showed how much they were cared for–also in the days before chemical embalming, it was a sort of hygiene thing.
So off they went, in the dark, before the sun came up, to avoid drawing the authorities’ attention, to do one more service for their friend.
And suddenly the darkness breaks, and instead of the gloom of a burial cave, they are met with a shining angel all in white, who tells the women that Jesus is risen, and they are to go and tell the disciples the good news.
I imagine this freaked them out pretty good–what with the earthquake and the angel in white. I imagine they fled back to the disciples and told them what happened, and didn’t have much idea of what to make of it. I imagine they were scared out of their minds.
Coming on the heels of Judas’ betrayal, the trial before Pilate, the crucifixion–suddenly being told that Jesus was alive would have probably seemed altogether too good to understand. It’s like that feeling after a sudden traumatic event, when you feel like everything is a bad dream you just need to wake up from….only they did. The world had been one way, and now….it wasn’t anymore. The world turned upside down.
Darkness, see, is not hard to get used to. Our eyes become accustomed to it fairly quickly. We learn how to live and move with less light. It’s not hard, and our expectations adjust accordingly.
So then, when light comes, it becomes blinding. Our eyes, so long accustomed to the dim light, burn and tear up. We shy away from the brightness because it’s not what we’re used to. Think Plato’s cave allegory.
So, too, it’s possible to get used to the dimness of the world. While we may not like the things around us, while we may complain bitterly about injustice, or sinfulness, or the cruelty we see on display– it becomes very easy after a while to just throw up your hands and say, “well, that’s the way it’s always been.” And mean, “that’s the way it always will be.” The world will always be broken. The mighty will always crush the weak, the truth will always go unheeded, the vulnerable will always be expendable– Humans will always hurt each other. World without end, amen.
It is easy, sometimes, to become used to the gloom. To become accustomed to functioning without the light we instinctively long for.
When we become used to the gloom, we look at the crucifixion and say “Well, what did you expect? Going around, threatening Caesar. It was just too good to last, now wasn’t it?”
And then Easter surprises us with all its shining glory, and upends what we know of the world. On Easter, Christ is risen from the dead. And the darkness and brokenness we had become so accustomed to in the world is swept away. For once, hate doesn’t win. For once, the weak is made strong. For once, death doesn’t have the last word–because God’s love proves stronger than anything else this world can dream up.
Christ’s resurrection is God’s answer to the darkness of the world. Easter is God’s firm response to the problems that plague us, God’s insistent reminder that no matter how desperate or dire things might seem, darkness does not win in the end. Hatred does not win in the end. Evil does not win in God’s creation. Not in the end.
In the end, peace wins. In the end, life wins. In the end, truth and justice win. In the end, Christ rises from the dead, and God promises us that the darkness that seems immovable will break, and light will have the final word. So we can’t be content with things as they are. Because they aren’t going to stay this way forever.
Easter is when we are invited, blinking, back into the light of this hope. The hope that no matter what is occurring in our world at the moment, it isn’t final, because we know the cross isn’t final. Pilate’s reign of terror isn’t final. The tomb isn’t final. The dark isn’t final. The blazing light of the Easter sunrise is what greets us at last, in the light of God’s love.
Love is what is final. And God’s love will ultimately win.